A common trait in every civilization known to us is now fast disappearing. This trait is the thirst for knowing the self. Most people have read that the ancient Greeks pursued the goal of “Know thyself,” but they do not realize that self-inquiry also stood at the very center of the great spiritual traditions in India, China, and the Judeo-Christian world. Today, a need to know thyself–in other words, to answer the question, “Who am I?”–by no means stands at the heart of civilization either East or West.
We have learned to accept, passively or with eager enthusiasm, some guiding principles that erode the entire value of self-inquiry. Among these principles are the following:
- The only true knowledge is factual and data driven.
- Science trumps all previous forms of knowledge.
- The greatest knowers of reality are scientists.
- So-called spiritual knowledge doesn’t exist–such claims were part of a world riddled with superstitions and myths.
- To look inward is a waste of time, since real knowledge of the mind will be revealed completely by studying the brain.
In one way or another these principles are the foundation of modern secular society. In many quarters a broad brush is applied to all spirituality as merely pre-scientific mumbo-jumbo, and the past is looked upon as one thing only: the benighted precursor to the advent of science. So be it. In the face of secularism, no one can claim that the institutions which exist as repositories of spirit, mainly organized religion, are tending upward. Their decline is inevitable and speeding up–so most educated observers believe.
But a funny thing happened on the way to absolute secularism. Science ran into two questions that to date have proved seriously unsolvable. The first is “What is the universe made of?” The second is “What is the biological basis of consciousness?” Both are objective questions about external facts, so it would be surprising–even revolutionary–if they eventually led us back to the inner world and the all but lost thirst for self-inquiry.
Most people do not realize that these two questions are the greatest mysteries in science, because it is assumed that a) the universe is made of atoms and subatomic particles, and b) the brain produces the mind, or consciousness. Yet if we look without rose-tinted glasses at these assumptions, they have no scientific foundation. Of course atoms and subatomic particles exist, but they are not the ultimate things that make up the universe. Solid, substantial matter vanished with the quantum revolution over a century ago, and contemporary physics stands baffled at the threshold of a world that precedes and underlies the quantum world. From this unknown domain emerged the big bang, and at this very instant every subatomic particle winks in and out of the same region. Continue reading